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St Maarten/St Martin
11 April 2010 Newsletter

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ISLAND NEWS


Cupecoy sunset

Saba in the afternoon   Weather: Sunday turned out to be a very nice day, warm, breezy, and sunny - another great beach day, reaching 83F, but dropped down to 79F at sunset. Monday was even better as the humidity dropped to 29% and despite reaching a temperature of 83F, a 10 mph breeze made it seem cool. Maybe I have been staying here too long! The photo on the left was taken in the late afternoon. For once, Mount Scenery was not enveloped in clouds. On Tuesday morning, another beautiful day, this cruise ship blocked out most of Saba as it headed toward Philipsburg. I think it's the Caribbean Princess, but I'm a landlubber. Wednesday was wonderful, sunny, warm, but breezy. The whitecaps on the lagoon tell me that the tradewinds are howling. Visits to Orient included a free sand dermabrasion treatment.   Crusie ship blotting out Saba
Thursday is starting cool (77F) and hazy, as Saba is barely visible, few clouds and no rain. Friday was another lovely day, warm but not too hot especially given the breeze, few clouds, hazy but no rain. More clouds arrived on Saturday and it did rain a bit. As I write on Sunday morning it is so hazy that Saba has disappeared and ominous black clouds are overhead. However, the eastern sky is bright and the tradewinds are pushing those black clouds along. It's 79F at 7AM and I'm betting on a pretty good day. Click for Juliana Airport, St. Martin Forecast The box shows the current local conditions and here's the detailed forecast from Weather Underground and here's one from the Weather Channel. Sunset today is at 6:25 and the moon is a waning crescent. The full moons in 2010 will be 28 Apr, 27 May, 26 Jun, 25 Jul, 24 Aug, 23 Sep, 22 Oct, 21 Nov, and 21 Dec.

Big Beach   SXM-Beaches: This week, Mullet was calm as it has been for the entire season. That's probably because we have had steady tradewinds and they approach the island from the NE, a direction exactly opposite to Mullet. The water was very warm and clear. A couple of dozen huge garbage bags are still piled in various places, but the Easter weekend trash has at least been bagged. Things were quiet at 10:00AM, although that is a bit early and we are in a notoriously quiet week. Anybody thinking about an April vacation knows that hotel and car rental rates drop about 30% on 15 April. Avoid 8-15 April, come one week later and you'll save a pantload.

Cupecoy still has lots of sand and not too many people at the baby beach. The water was a bit rougher than at Mullet, but still clear and warm. Some people are coming over from Orient to avoid the winds. Not only does the mountainous center of the island block the winds, but at Cupecoy we get the extra protection from 10-30 foot sandstone cliffs.

Killing Floor Cover   Beach reading: Killing Floor by Lee Child - $9.99 - This is the book that started the Jack Reacher series, featuring an ex-military policeman as a killing machine. It got panned by some as a bit too bloody and because of an an unconvincing coincidence in the plot. Nonetheless, there are at least eleven more Jack Reacher novels, so somebody likes them. Amazon.com says: When Jack Reacher suddenly decides to ask a Greyhound bus driver to let him off near the town of Margrave, Georgia, he thinks it's because his brother once mentioned that the famed blues guitarist Blind Blake died there. But it doesn't take long for the footloose ex-military policeman to discover that there are plenty of strange--and very dangerous--things going on behind Margrave's manicured lawns and clean streets that demand his attention. This first thriller by a former television writer features some of the best-written scenes of action in recent memory, a crash course in currency and counterfeiting, and a hero who is just begging to be called on for an encore.

Construction: This was Martha's 7AM wakeup call on Wednesday. On 14 March I reported that Theo and Bleu Mall had a big photo op announcing that Bleu Mall would spend a cool million dollars to improve the road from Sapphire Beach Club to the rotary at Porto Cupecoy. You have to break some eggs to make an omelet and you have to break up some road to lay cable for street lights. Two different excavators scratched at at this for about two weeks and now they have brought in a jackhammer to remove the more recalcitrant material. You'll notice that this fine member of the brotherhood of heavy equipment operators has managed to block the main road through Cupecoy. Even without the heavy equipment, the ditch removes about two feet of roadway and the pile removes another three or four, ie it was (and still is) a bit tight for travel around here, especially when large construction vehicles head for Bleu Mall and Porto Cupecoy. Moreover, they have now ditched all the way to the golf course bringing Atlantis Casino into their construction zone. We, of course, are in the middle of it at Sapphire Beach Club, so no matter which way we go, we have to deal with the blockage.

  jackhammer in Cupecoy

Below left is Shore Pointe, taken from the French border at the top of the hill. In the center is a view of Porto Cupecoy in the foreground and Bleu Mall in the background with Sapphire in the back on the left. The right hand photo is the view of the back of Porto Cupecoy as one heads down the road from the border.

Shore Pointe Porto Cupecoy, Bleu Mall, and Sapphire Porto Cupecoy
Sapphire Beach Club: We are in our condo until mid-April but it is available after that for $900 to $1000 per week until 15 Dec, when high season kicks in. You'll get a 10% discount from Unity Car Rental, one of the longest running and most trusted on the island, and many more coupons as well, including the use of our 2010 SXM Privilege Card that gets you discounts on many restaurants. Check the calendar on our website for available dates.

For those of you who wish to sell or rent their week or unit, we have opened up the Sapphire Beach Club website for that purpose. We charge $25 per year. If you wish to rent or sell your unit, send us some text (and $25 to esk@sxm-info.com via Paypal). If you wish to rent or buy a unit without high middleman fees, check out the website. Given the large assessment that Sapphire just levied, there may be a lot of sales. At present, there are 20 sales and/or rentals available directly from owners. Given a 25 to 35% standard rental commission, there should be some bargains in eliminating the middleman and dealing direct.

  ginger

Larimar pendant   Shopping: I stopped in to talk with Deepak at Royal Caribbean Jewelers recently. They used to have an outpost here at Sapphire, but closed it at the end of last season. Now they are concentrating on the store in the center of Philipsburg and the outpost at the Flamingo Resort. They do have diamonds and colored diamonds, but what caught my eye was the larimar. It comes from a very small area here in the Dominican Republic and its light blue color with white swirls mimics the water, sky, and clouds of the Caribbean. They have stunning pieces from Marah Lago and some of their own design.

Activities: We did go to Bonita's Cantina for their Pig Out special (only $10) and caught the NCAA championship game on Monday night.

  Philipsbur Store

Crime: Good news. Bad news. The bad is that there were several robberies on the French side. The good news is at least one perp responsible for at least two of them has been caught already.

GEBE: They had another oil spill in Cay Bay and we lost power for a couple hours as we slept one evening. The only reason I noticed was that the alarm clock was blinking the incorrect time when I awoke.

Uncle Harry's   Travel: We are coming home next week as we are at the end of our aloted 90 days on the island. I do believe that this restriction was overruled by a recent court case reaffirming that the 1957 treaty signed between the US and the Netherlands gives US citizens the same rights here in the Dutch islands as Dutch citizens have. Nonetheless, if they don't want my money, I'm happy to head back home. I talked to Roman about catching a lift in Pelorus, so he anchored in Cupecoy Bay to allow me check her out. She's nice, but with only two 5500 hp engines she can only make 19 knots and typically cruises at 12 to 14 knots. At 377 feet long and 55 feet wide, I'm not sure she could make it up the Hudson to Albany and I'm positive she would never make it up the Battenkill to our home in Salem. He tried to tell me that his helicopters would fly right into the field in front of our house, but he only has two on board. With the luggage and the cat, it just seemed unworkable. Thus, we head home on Continental. I'll enthrall you with the wonders of flying coach in the next issue.
Nature: Elisa Cohen at Bikini Beach put my spelling of this flower into a Yahoo search. Yahoo corrected the spelling to Mussaenda and gave us an article that doesn't say a lot, but at least we know the correct spelling!

Green logo Our office is well over 100% solar-powered and our servers are about 130% wind-powered.

Small Island story: The island appears to be too small for two countries. The French have decided to lay claim to a bit more land and this became apparent when French authorities told Captain Oliver's Resort that they cannot keep their exotic animals at the resort. According to a map from about 50 years ago that was used to set boundaries, the resort straddles the border. The part of the resort that has the animals is on the Dutch side of that map and has been dutifully paying Dutch taxes and abiding by Dutch law - until now. I don't know if they will invade and take the resort. You probably should not bring sidearms on your next visit, but I don't know how this will end.

  Musaaenda


SXM-INFO'S CONTESTS


We are running two contests currently, the normal SXM-Info contest and a special contest that started during the regatta. The Regatta Contest can be found on our charter boat page, although most of the prizes are gift certificates to restaurants. You can enter both contests.

The only prize that hasn't been awarded in the Regatta Contest is the two for one week at Marci's Mega Gym. The sleek motor yacht is "berthed" in what landlubbers call Galis Bay, based on the road signs in the area. People with good maps can see that it is called Bay of Potence or Bay of Portence. Potence in French means gallows in English, making it pretty close to Galis Bay. You can actually see the ship on Google Maps. It has deteriorated somewhat since that satellite passed over. Now that you know where the boat is, all you have to do is scour the Megagym website to find the answer to the question: Who trained at the gym, and was named the third sexiest man on the island in a Daily Herald poll?

Current Contest:

28 February to 25 April 2010
Caribbean View Condo - half price summer rental (May-October)
Lagoon Pub Crawl - two for one ticket
Skipjack's - $50 off a dinner for two
Select Wine Cellar - Wine tasting and a bottle of wine
Random Wind - $40 gift certificate
MMG 2000 - Two for One week at the gym with a shake
Tijon Perfume - One free bottle
Peg Leg Pub - $50 off a dinner for two
PassportMD - Six months free service
Radiant Gems - $50 off a purchase of $200 or more
Lighthouse at Oyster Bay - $1000 off a summer week (June-October)
Piazza Pascal - $50 off dinner for two

Read our rules, visit the websites of these sponsors, find their contest codes, and enter them on our entry form.

One of the rules is that you should enter each contest only once. You can enter five of the drawings on one entry. Thus, you could win a rather nice vacation at a considerable savings by combining accommodations with dinners and activities.

Future Contests:
25 April to 25 July | 25 July to 31 October | 31 October to 26 December
same cast of characters as current contest

 


RESTAURANTS


On 4 April the euro was at $1.350. Today it is at $1.350, no movement, although it was down to 1.33, a fairly large weekly move. A recent thread on TTOL started by asking how one could lock in a future vacation cost in euros or hedge against a declining dollar. There is the Forex, Foreign Exchange trading platform. One could also buy a European stock fund (Vanguard European Equity VGK has two-thirds of its assets in euro-based companies and one-third in the UK). Even if the stock market does nothing globally, one would make money if the euro/pound appreciated against the dollar. Good luck on guessing correctly and right now there is a lot of guessing:

When Albert Einstein died, he met three Americans in the queue outside the Pearly Gates. To pass the time, he asked what were their IQs. The first replied 190. "Wonderful," exclaimed Einstein. "We can discuss the contribution made by Ernest Rutherford to atomic physics and my theory of general relativity". The second answered 150. "Good," said Einstein. "I look forward to discussing the role of America's nuclear-free legislation in the quest for world peace". The third American mumbled 50. Einstein paused, and then asked, "So what is your forecast for the budget deficit next year?"

In truth, economists are actually quite smart, it's just that the field in which they labor is not as amenable to mathmatical solutions as they hope. Assumptions must be made. These affect calculated outcomes which leads to the observation that if you laid all the economists end to end, they would never reach a conclusion. Basically, the euro is under pressure because Greece, a country with a GDP equal to the turnover of Conoco-Philips, is having trouble with its debt. This is punishing the euro on some days but some other people are waking up to the fact that the US has a debt problem and recent activities in Washington (and that includes everyone there in the last 50 years except Bill Clinton who lucked into a surplus for a few years) have not helped. For what its worth Greece is ranked behind Japan, Iceland, and Italy in debt as a percentage of GDP at 123%. Then comes Belgium, France and the good old US of A at 92%. At the end of WWII in 1946 the US was also at 123% based on the debt of 271 billion. After ten years with few surpluses, the debt stood at 274 billion, but the ratio had dropped to 70% because the GDP was higher. The GDP was higher because of essentially equal parts of economic expansion and inflation. Eurozone countries promised one another to control inflation by balancing budgets. Greece did not, made optimistic assumptions about the future, and used creative accounting to hide its problems. (sounds familiar to those of us who have helped bail out banks lately) As Greece no longer has a currency of its own, it cannot devalue that currency and inflate its way out of debt. It is my contention that France (certainly) and Germany (reluctantly) and the IMF (as a last resort) will not allow Greece to fail, but even if Greece did fail, that tiny portion of the Eurozone will not bring down the entire zone. My money bets that the Eurozone will continue to fight inflation while the USA continues to use it to balance its budget with predictable results on the two currencies in the long run. Remember, this advice is worth every penny you paid for it.

Piazza Pascal is offering 1 to 1 for cash. Vanessa and Patrick's restaurants (California and ZEN Cafe Concept) are also doing 1 to 1, as is La Villa. Zuzu tells me that they use 1.20 at Paradise View Restaurant and Rancho del Sol. It's 1.25 at Palm Beach Restaurant but the beach chairs are free if you eat there. Charging your credit card in dollars used to save the 3% currency transaction charge that most cards are now charging for foreign currency transactions. Recently my Citibank card said they would charge me 3% just for doing business overseas - even if it was in dollars! I now use a Capital One card and get an excellent exchange rate. The frequent flier benefits can be used on any airline and there are no blackouts. For more info on credit card fees, read this article in the NY Times. They even mention Capital One.

 
Skipjack's
Sunday we headed over to Simpson Bay for some great fish at the bar at Skipjack's and watch opening day (ok, night) at Fenway on the large screen TV. Unfortunately, the game was blacked out on ESPN2 in the Caribbean. The fish was still great. Martha had the slightly spicy crabcakes ($13) with plenty of crab and a good bit of salad. I had the Cuban grouper ($23). As usual, we had bottle of the Concannon Pinot Noir ($29). The big flavors of our fish easily stood up to the light red wine. Unfortunately, my camera batteries died so that is photo of blackened grouper from an earlier dinner. The Cuban grouper has the same firm white fish topped with black beans and just a touch of heat. It was all good, only $75, and quick. We made it home before the third inning was over. And it just got better after that!

  Concannon Pinot Noir  
  Crabcakes Blackened grouper  

Bonita's Cantina Logo Presidente Pig out
  Continuing our accent on sports, we headed over to Bonita's Cantina on Monday night for a barbecue dinner and the NCAA championship. We started with two pints of Presidente on draft and both ordered the The Pig Out, a full slab of ribs plus pulled pork (above right, $16 normally, $10 tonight because it is the Monday night special). Crisp fries came with both meals and we added some coleslaw and sliced jalapenos. Our total bill came to under $27 and we took home enough for another dinner. The entire menu including the Tex-Mex selections is on their website. Check out the lunch and dinner specials for really inexpensive dining.

As an aside, when we drove by on our way home from Skipjack's the night before, we saw a shot of Fenway on the large screen TV in the new front bar, so we knew that Bonita's had the game on. Bonny told us that they were watching the pregame show and then the channel went dark. As I've mentioned before, Brian and Bonny have set this place up as a real sports bar with a half dozen satelite dishes. Eventually they found the game on another dish. They can bring in games that are normally blacked out down here and they can bring in multiple stations simultaneously and display them on many of their several TVs. Moreover, there are TVs at the two bars and TVs in the dining room.

 

Bistro Carabes' logo  
Bistro Carabes
For our final dinner of the season at Bistro Carabes we had a small bit of the smoked salmon appetizer (the photo on the left is a full size version and costs 14) and the snails in a creamy garlic sauce (a frequent special, center, 11). They sell Chablis by the glass so we started with two crisp glasses to accompany the the salmon. The salmon is smoked here at the restaurant and it has a deep smoky flavor while retaining a luscious texture. It comes with toast and crisp onion slices for crunch and flavor and capers and lemon for a bit more flavor. For our main courses, Martha had the duck breast (right, 25) and I had the rack of lamb (bottom right, 27).
salmon Snails Duck breast
Our wine for the main courses was a 2005 Chateauneuf du Pape from Mont Redon (46), a big, flavorful Rhone from the best year in the decade for Rhone (although 2007 was very close and 2006 was very good). With about four years in the bottle, the 2005 was not only very flavorful, but also quite smooth as the tannins had mellowed with age, haven't we all. It was great with the bold tastes of the duck and the lamb. The dinner ended with a couple after-dinner balloons of complimentary Armagnac. Our bill came to about 130 and a favorable 1.3 to 1 exchange rate made that $170. Amaury and Thibault have kept basically the same menu for several years, but I still have trouble choosing because so many of the dishes are my favorites. The French sea bass is spectacular, Martha loves the marmite, (although, in truth, there is not a fish course for which I do not have fond memories), the veal scallopini with blue cheese sings, and these lamb chops were wonderful. If you check them out on the website, you'll see that even though it is the same dish, it has changed a bit this season, not just visually, although that is certainly true, but some of the accompaniments have changed. A little tweaking here and there, but the basic philosophy is "Don't mess with success."   Lamb chops

 
Piazza Pascal
After dinner we were driving down restaurant row when these three sirens beckoned from deep within the confines of Piazza Pascal. Unlike Ulysses, I had forgotten to put beeswax in my ears and lash myself to the steering wheel. Consequently, my trusty Getz foundered into a parking spot and we finished an enjoyable evening over a few cocktails with Donna (she's in the middle), Pascal, and a few other patrons.
  Lovely scenery

 
Tai Chi Restaurant
On Thursday we headed out to Tai Chi Restaurant in Orient Village. As reported earlier, Tai Chi lost its Thai chefs in December and had dropped much of the Thai menu, offering a few dishes as specials with a few more standard French dishes also. The sushi chef remained so the sushi and sashimi offerings have increased. Thursday's news was that they have found a new Thai chef and hope that in a couple weeks things will be back to normal. Martha had a California roll featuring crab (below left, 18) and I had a special off the blackboard, chicken curry with Thai noodles (no photo, 15). For dessert I had three pieces of sushi: squid, tuna, and octopus (below right, 3 each). We were a bit out of sorts so we just had a few bottles of 1664 Kronenbourg beer, one of the best French beers. Our total bill was $78 given a 1.3 exchange rate.

 
  California Kronenbourg Sushi  


News and Changes: The article on restaurants at Orient Beach with recipes for a four course meal that we touted all last season has been published on the web in SXM-Info's features section. You'll find a recipe for Shrimp Dumpling Soup from Tai Chi Restaurant, a recipe for Goat Cheese Salad from Palm Beach Restaurant, a recipe for Beef Wellington from Kakao Beach, and a recipe for Coconut Flan from Rancho del Sol.   Tai Chi logo

This issue features assitance from Lilly, the wonder cat. Martha and I took her over to the vets in Concordia on the back side of Marigot. For $13 (10) they check her out and issue the travel papers that she needs to get back to the US. She said she liked the vet and was quite happy with the experience overall. She did mention that it smelled somewhat doggy, however. We've tried to explain that dogs are people, too, but she's not buying any of that. Seriously, it is possible to bring dogs and cats back and forth from the USA. You'll need a a health certificate from the US before you fly and you'll have to get another here before your return. If the animal flies in the cabin, you'll need a reservation and the costs and procedures vary from airline to airline. I certainly would not do it for a one or two week stay, but for three months it is worth the aggravation and cost.

Greg Asadoorian is at Sopranos for the month of April.

  Rainbow


BARGAINS AND HAPPENINGS


SXM Privilege Card   Coupons: The SXM Privilege Card seems to be a pretty good deal. It will get you various discounts and/or perks at 33 restaurants (by my count in the print version). They also cover hotels (mostly spa treatments at hotels), activities, and more. Most of the restaurant perks are a 10% discount. Use it twice in a month and it pays for itself. Here's a link to the SXM-Info website for a our coupons for some freebie or discount. Here's a list of the coupons you'll find:  
Bikini Beach
Beau Beau's
Diamonds International
Escargot
Kakao Beach
Marci's Mega Gym
Oizeau Rare
Pizza Galley
Tai Chi
Select Wine Cellar
Endless Summer Beachwear
Radiant Gems
Snorkel Trips
Tropical Wave

  Our condo: We were here until 13 April. The condo is available for rent at $1000 per week from then until 15 June, $900 per week from 16 June until 1 October, and $1000 per week until 15 December 2009. The rental includes about $500 in coupons from several of our website clients including one for 10% off a weekly car rental from Unity Car Rental, one of the longest running and most trusted car rental agencies on the island. Other notable coupons are $50 from Skipjack's restaurant, a tastng and a bottle of wine from Select Wine Cellar, a two for one ride on Celine's famous Lagoon Pub Crawl, $50 off a daysail on Random Wind, 50 from Piazza Pascal. The Christmas and New Year's holiday weeks will be available at $2000 per week and the balance of the high season is available at $1500 per week. As always any days within the next month are available for $100 each. Check the calendar on our website for available dates.

  SXM-Info has chosen SkyMed as our preferred medical travel insurance partner. Any medical travel insurance will get you back to the US, but SkyMed takes you home. Where's home? From their website: "Our definition of home is simple: Home is where you say it is. When struck by the unexpected, our service takes you home." We hope you never need it, but when air evacuation flights cost $30,000 or more, it's good to have. Alert reader Ken M has spotted an alternative for timeshare travelers that bundles travel insurance with a medical evacuation plan for only $99. It appears you have to use it in conjunction with a timeshare reservation, apply for the coverage at least 30 days before travel starts, and it's only good for 90 days of vacation. Then again if you have 90 days of timeshare, I'd like to meet you.  

PassportMD provides many things, including access to Monthly Harvard Health Letter and the Harvard Mental Health Letter, savings on prescriptions, medical reminders, an ability to email your doctor, and more. The most important benefit for travelers on cruiseships or those who take extended vacations in the third world is the ability to have your medical records stored in a secure server that will allow quick access in your time of need. SXM-Info has teamed up with PassportMD to provide these services with a two month absolutely free, no strings attach trial.

 

Kindle: I'm now convinced that the Kindle e-book from Amazon is the best thing to take to a beach. Newsletter subscriber Contessa says: "I loaded it up with more books than I needed and it was a very convenient way to read without lugging books to the beach." Paul M wrote: "My wife and I spent a lovely week at La Samanna in late March and I loaded my Kindle with several books and read them on the beach. The Kindle was fabulous. I had a case and was careful not to get in contact with sand, but the device was excellent to use for beach or poolside reading." Wendy K reports that her friend Jerri is quite happy with hers. The only downside (for Wendy) is that she can no longer borrow books from Jerri.  
The new version and is barely a quarter inch thick and weighs about 10 ounces. It has 16 shades of gray for the page background and reads well even in direct sunlight. Even better news is that they dropped the price to $259 and have come out with a version that can download books outside the US. Martha has been downloading audio books from our local library to her Zune (an iPod knockoff) and that has been working rather well. Obviously, these are audio books and it's not the same as "reading" the text, but it works quite well and keeps us amused as we drive.

I just got this from Amazon. There is a two for one during April on Smart Money, Esquire, and Maximum PC that may appeal to some readers and there are several others that are of no interest to me, but you might be interested. Moreover Amazon's rates on other mags seem pretty good. As we all seem to like traveling, you might be interested in Caribbean Travel & Life and Cond Nast Traveler.

Sandy Molloy at Molloy Travel offers personalized service to fit your needs and budget.